History: Contacts and trade between Africa and India date back centuries. In the colonial period Indians were taken to Africa as slaves starting in 15th century. These Indians have prospered since then and form an important link between their country and India. India supported the freedom movements of African peoples. Gandhi’s non-violence and passive resistance inspired many leaders such as Nelson Mandela (S.Africa), Julius Nyeyere (Tanzania), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia). Further India was a strong opponent of the apartheid regime in S.Africa and Namibia, and raised the issue in the United Nations.
However, the relationship swung from a period of great emotional and political solidarity in the 1950s and 1960s, to selective engagement in the 1970s and 1980s. In the post-Cold War era in Africa there was a growing perception that it was marginalised, both politically and economically. Consequently India's Africa policy has undergone changes- features:
(a) promoting economic cooperation,
(b) engaging the people of Indian origin,
(c) preventing and combating terrorism (India's anti-piracy efforts to safeguard shipping
in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.)
(d) preserving peace (India is the third-biggest contributor of UN peacekeepers to the
continent, helping clamp down on civil wars in Sudan and Congo)
(e) assisting the African defence forces.
India launched a policy of economic diplomacy way back in the 1960s. More recently two Africa-India Summits have been held in 2008 and 2011. This has provided great impetus to ties and trade. The booming two-way trade, likely to pass $50 billion this year, is the backdrop to all this goodwill. Oil exports account for much of the trade, thanks to the investments by Indian oil firms in eight producing countries. Minerals matter too. India’s large jewellery industry gobbles up South African diamonds and gold. Mozambique’s coal fuels power stations. India wants uranium from Malawi and Niger for nuclear power.
More than this India wants African backing for another round of long-stalled efforts to reform the UN Security Council. At present India and Africa are the only adamant members who are demanding extension of ‘security council’ permanent seats permanently, and either a suspension of veto or extension of veto to all new permanent members. India craves a permanent seat, and will back an African permanent one, too, probably for South Africa.
The first summit, which took place in New Delhi in 2008, wasn’t groundbreaking but it was the first step toward establishing a framework for cooperation between India and African countries on areas ranging from business, to humanitarian assistance to security. Some of the agreements were: (i) India’s pledge to grant preferential market access to least developed countries, of which many are African. (ii) India initiated the Pan-African e-Network Project across 43 countries, which drew appreciation from the beneficiary countries. This 2011 summit sought to evaluate the progress, and place an even greater emphasis on commercial ties.
In the Africa India Forum Summit 2011, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasized the growing importance of Africa, calling it the 'new growth pole' in the world. There is no doubt that Africa is an emerging priority in India's foreign policy. This is evidenced by the special mention it finds on the Ministry of External Affairs website, along with ‘Terrorism, Afghanistan, and India in UNSC).
India has often emphasized that its partnership with Africa rests on the triad of skills transfer, capacity building and trade. Initiatives promised in the Addis Ababa Declaration 2011and Africa-India Framework for Enhanced Cooperation include:
1. US$5 billion line of credit to support Africa's development goals; and a US$300m line of credit for development of a new Ethiopia-Djibouti railway line.
2. Eighty institutions in Africa, which will be set up at the Pan-African, regional and bilateral levels. The institutions will relate to myriad issues such as food processing, integrated textiles, weather forecasting, life and earth sciences, agriculture and rural development, soil water and tissue testing laboratories, regional farm sciences centres, seed production-cum-demonstration centres and material testing labs for highway development, institutes for English language training, information technology, entrepreneurship development and vocational training. US$700 million has been promised for this effort.
3. Human Resource Development: India-Africa virtual university with 10 000 new scholarships under this proposed university. Training slots and scholarships (more than 22000) available under the India Technical and Economic Co-operation programme.
4. Piracy- India has proposed to support the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) with a grant of US$2m, keeping in view the recurring threat from piracy off Somalia and the grave situation within the country.
The African response to the Indian initiatives unveiled by the Prime Minister has been positive. The initiatives launched by India in Addis Ababa have sent the message that India is serious about building new partnerships with Africa. 'Brand India' has been accepted as a model that stresses on partnership in enhancing skills and capacity building within the continent by the Africans. One of their complaints with China has been that their engagement with China has not resulted in any capacity-development for Africa. India, with its substantial technology knowledge pool, is well placed to contribute to such capacity-building. This will also help in better utilisation of Indian financial assistance — of the committed credit line (unused funds from a previous financial package comprise $3.4 billion). The Africans are also aware that India is ready to share appropriate technology that is affordable and accessible for sustainable development and poverty elevation.
Importantly the Indian approach towards Africa is not driven by the government alone. The Indian industry and corporate world are equally interested in doing business with Africa. A large number of Indian private sector companies, including Tata, Kirloskar, Mittal and Reliance, have invested in Africa in recent years. Eg: Airtel-Zain deal. However, it is critical that Indian officials and businessmen work together to meet these deadlines.
There is no doubt that over the years India's trade with Africa has expanded. It was a little less than US$1b in 1990-1991 and currently it is US$46b. However, in comparison China's two-way trade with Africa (grew) to US$115b in 2010. Other ways in which China scores over us are: whereas China’s African embassies are large and well staffed, the handful of Indian diplomats in Mozambique struggle to speak Portuguese. Bids by Chinese state-owned firms for African oil concessions routinely knock Indian ones aside. It helps that Chinese-built infrastructure projects have already charmed governments. To make matters more difficult African officials appear to be unclear about what India is trying to accomplish—which is not the case with China. China’s Africa policy has long been clear: massive infrastructure-building in exchange for market access.
Thus it is evident that these initiatives throw up a challenge in terms of enhancing capacities within India - diplomatic, academic and professionals. Within India's Ministry of External Affairs there is a need to strengthen the team of officials working on Africa. As India's dialogue with Africa increases, it is quite natural that there will be demand for professionals and scholars with expertise in African affairs. Among the academic institutions, universities, think tanks there is a dearth of experts on Africa. It is time that these issues are given priority.